HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 c15
14. Laura Moffatt

What steps his Department is taking to expand employment opportunities for women in the armed forces. [16809]

Dr. Reid

Women already make a substantial contribution to the armed forces and serve alongside their male colleagues in many roles. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in a defence debate on 27 October that, from April next year, the proportion of posts open to women in the Army will rise from 47 to 70 per cent. We have also commissioned a review that will enable us to decide whether any of the remaining restrictions on employment opportunities for women in all three services can be reduced or removed.

Laura Moffatt

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that women have always proved themselves—especially in Bosnia, as I have witnessed—able to take part in the armed forces? Does he agree also that women are capable of taking part in combat roles in the Royal Navy? Does not that put paid to the claim that women are not suitable and that such roles are suitable only for the chaps? Thank you.

Dr. Reid

It is a pleasure. The Government, as my hon. Friend would expect, and the armed forces are committed to expanding career opportunities for women. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that service women now represent 7 per cent. of total strength and that in the 12 months to 1 September 1997 14 per cent. of new recruits were women. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 27 October that from 1 April next year the proportion of posts in the Army open to women will increase to 70 per cent.

I am glad to say that the Ministry of Defence has a good working relationship with the Equal Opportunities Commission. Later today I shall meet Kamlesh Bahl, its chairwoman, to see how much further we can expand opportunities for women in the armed forces.

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